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On campus tonight: race, environment, and IQ

October 9th, 2008, 9:16am by Sam Wang

Here’s a topic far from our daily discussion. But it’s an important subject, one that often gets mishandled badly. Tonight I’m hosting as a speaker Prof. James R. Flynn, a real maverick.

Flynn is the discoverer of the eponymous Flynn effect, the phenomenon that in developed countries, standardized IQ test scores have gone up by several points per decade for the last century. Such a rate of change is too fast for natural selection to occur, and therefore is due to some kind of environmental change. The next logical question is whether we can learn enough to control and shape these factors. In my view this finding has deep significance for how we understand how our achievements are shaped by the world we grow up in.

Flynn himself is a fascinating character. Unlike some people who research environment, race, and intelligence, he’s very much an egalitarian. Flynn was active in the Civil Rights era, chairing a local chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Decades ago, his activism got him fired from an academic position in Kentucky. Now he lives in New Zealand. He is quite unafraid of pursuing ideas where they may lead. Peter Singer and I have been trading off hosting duties, a pleasure.

For those of you near campus, Flynn will give a public lecture tonight at 7:30 pm in McCosh 10. His topic is Black IQ: Environmental Influences. He will draw upon a recent book, What Is Intelligence? Beyond The Flynn Effect.

For those of you farther away, it will be on local cable access and (eventually) available as a webcast.

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